Disabled survivors of sexual violence need more awareness about their rights

The difficulties that girls and women in India faced while seeking justice in cases of sexual violence is well know. There is stigma is going to the police, the act of reporting the violence, the painful and invasive medical exam, the long court battle, as well as the victim-blaming, which always happens.

All of this becomes much worse for girls and women with disabilities. A 2014 report by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, said that the lack of disaggregated data collection means the violence committed against women with disabilities is invisible.

In this context, it is important to know what rights girls and women with disabilities have when they become victims of sexual violence. After the public outrage over the gang-rape and murder of 23-year-old Nirbhaya in December 2012, the government of India introduced the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act in 2013.

Among its various provisions are many that make it easier for disabled survivors of sexual violence to see justice.

The guidelines mention that if a person is temporarily or permanently mentally or physically disabled, then:

  • Such information shall be recorded by a police officer, at the residence of the person seeking to report such offence or at a convenient place of such person's choice, in the presence of an interpreter or a special educator, as the case may be.
  • The statement made by the person, with the assistance of an interpreter or a special educator, shall be videographed.

The second provision is to make sure the survivor does not have to relive her pain and trauma over and over again, on cross-examination in court.

The point, however, is that these are not enforced enough. Many cases go unreported because of the stigma and the fear of public ridicule. There is also lack of education given on matters about sex and sexuality to disabled girls and women. This makes them remain invisible.

An April 2018 Human Rights Watch report found that:

While the 2013 amendments have made significant progress in responding to the widespread challenges that victims of sexual violence endure, they have yet to properly develop and implement support for survivors with disabilities in the form of trainings and reforms throughout the criminal justice system - Human Rights Watch, 2018

There are some signs of change on the ground. In the recent instances of the abuse of the hearing impaired girls in Bihar and also the child in Chennai, counsellors and sign language experts were available to cousnel the survivors and act as an intermediary with the police. This needs to be made the rule rather than the exception to empower more survivors of abuse to speak up.

The law needs to definitely be made more accessible for girls and women with disabilities to facilitate them to interact with the police and the judiciary. There is need for procedural and age-appropriate accommodations, and other support depending on their disabilities. This could include access to sign-language interpreters, presence of someone to facilitate communication through institutional support , use of simple language, and the options to file reports in braille etc. - Rati Misra, Advisor, National Centre for Promotion of Employment for Disabled People (NCPEDP)

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